Conservationists want warning sign to protect fish from boaters

Concern: boat anchors in spawning grounds; crushes eggs and embryo fish that are still under the gravel

It will be a while before a longtime champion of Cowichan River ecosystems gets his wish to see warning signs at the boat launch.

Paul Rickard asked the Lake Cowichan Parks, Recreation and Culture Committee to post a sign warning about anchoring watercraft over spawning grounds.

In a letter to the committee, Rickard said he’s become aware of increased boat traffic on the Cowichan River.

“At times up to 40 boats per day on the lower river alone,” he said, noting the issue was a topic of discussion at a recent Region 1 Provincial Fisheries Advisory committee.

“We need to educate drift boat anglers about the danger of anchoring on the spawning areas of the salmon and steelhead in the river.”

In a later interview, Rickard said ignorance is the difference between life and death for many, many fish.

“When you drop an anchor (on spawning grounds) it crushes eggs and embryo fish that are still under the gravel,” he said.

If the anchors are dragged, it has the potential “to wipe out a whole spawning” site, he said.

“It’s just a matter of ignorance rather than a lack of concern,” Rickard said.

Mayor Ross Forrest said he understands the intent of the sign.

“I don’t have any problem with them making boaters aware,” he said at the Jan. 7 meeting.

Councillor Tim McGonigle wondered aloud if the sign might serve a better purpose in a different location.

“Would it be better placed down river closer to the (affected) area?”

The site where Rickard wants to see the sign is actually on Catalyst Paper property.

“That’s right, and that’s where our boat launch is, right at the weir,” said Mayor Ross Forrest.

“The town leases the boat launch, so we have to work with Catalyst on that.”

Added Nagi Rizk, the town’s superintendent of Public Works and Engineering Services: “My own opinion is it’s one too many signs.”

Regardless, the matter was referred to the advisory planning committee.

“We did that because our APC is doing some work with a group on wayward signing for the town and we want signage that’s consistent, we don’t want 20 different styles of signage through the town,” said Forrest.

“If it fits in with the other signage it will be fine.”